The pocket economist
14 Jun 2012

My brother-in-law is a brain surgeon, which in itself is kind of scary as he can't change a light bulb. That said I believe he is a pretty good one, working out of a number of specialist London hospitals. Now brain surgery is by its very nature highly specialist work. It is complex and focused as the risks associated with it are high.

Despite his clear specialism, people who know him always have some ailment or injury that they want him to diagnose and give a view on. It is a bit like asking a nuclear physicist to fix your microwave. But to most of us a doctor (or consultant in his case) is a doctor!

I guess it is human nature to try and prise some pearls of wisdom from someone in the know. I always like the garage mechanic to explain how he fixed a problem on my car or why the problem occurred in the first place. Not because I am ever in a month of Sundays going to get under the bonnet with a socket set, but just because it feels good to be informed.

I have worked in financial services now for (I am showing my age here) nearly 27 years and I hope that over the years I have learnt a fair bit about banking, consumer finance and the economy and just like my brother-in-law people are often asking me to diagnose their financial problems or explain how things work:

What should I do about my pension?
Should I fix my mortgage?
Where can I get the best savings rate? (Kent Reliance is a good start of course.)
What does quantitative easing really mean?

to name a few of the challenges I am regularly posed.

Now I am happy to give a view on most things financial, but views are only ever generic and real financial advice must be specific. Therefore generically the answers to the questions above are:

Pay as much in as possible.
Yes, if you want certainty of repayment.
Via the Moneyfacts website.
It is the government buying back its issued debt to put liquidity into the system (rather than actually printing money as it is so often described).

However none of these, with the exception of the QE point, which, let's face it, is pretty boring anyway, are specific enough answers to rely on.

The real answer is to seek specialist help. A cardiologist for chest pain; an independent financial adviser for pensions; an osteopath for muscular skeletal issues; an independent mortgage broker for advice on fixed versus variable; a best buy table plus the suggested firm's website for savings; and of course, an economist if you really can't sleep at night without getting completely to grips with QE.

Don't take important advice from a bloke down the pub and whilst generalists are useful, they should really only point you in the right direction.

Now has anyone got a good tip for the 3.30 at Kempton Park?